Five biggest talking points of 2023 (women)

Credit to: World Aquatics

As 2023 comes to a close, we select the five biggest talking points among European women this year.

Sarah Sjöström

Credit to: World Aquatics

Sarah Sjöström is the embodiment of sustained excellence and astonishing longevity and versatility.

She is also an athlete who consistently rewrites the history books.

That continued at the 2023 World Championships when the Swede joined Katie Ledecky as the only swimmer to win five consecutive titles in a single event when she powered to the 50m butterfly title.

She had little time to celebrate and was back in the water less than 20 minutes later for the 50m freestyle semifinals.

There she pulled off a remarkable feat by lowering the world record to 23.61secs, taking 0.06secs from her previous global standard of 23.67 which had stood for six years and one day.

Sjöström went on to claim her third straight 50 free title for the 21st individual world medal of her career.

With that she became the most decorated athlete in solo events in World Championship history with one more medal than Michael Phelps.

The 30-year-old has been winning world medals for half her life having clinched the 100m butterfly at Rome 2009 aged 15 with subsequent honours in the 50 freestyle, 100 free, 200 free, 50 butterfly and 100 fly.

At Roma 2022 she moved to the helm of all-time European medal counts with five trips to the podium making it 28 overall since her golden debut aged 14 in 2008.

Sjöström indicated in Fukuoka that she will contest the 50 and 100 free and the 100m butterfly at Paris 2024.

Ruta Meilutyte

Credit to: World Aquatics

Ruta Meilutyte has experienced the highs and lows of swimming.

The Lithuanian became a surprise Olympic champion at London 2012 when she won the 100m breaststroke aged 15.

World and European titles followed along with world records but she retired in May 2019, shortly after it was revealed she’d missed three doping tests in a 12-month period which ultimately led to a two-year suspension dating from July that same year.

The ban served, Meilutyte returned to the water and in 2022 won 50m gold and 100m bronze at both the World and European Championships as well as setting a new world record in the shorter race at the World Short-Course Championships.

Meilutyte continued her soaring form in 2023 with victory in the 100m breaststroke in Fukuoka, reclaiming the title she’d won 10 years earlier.

Come the 50m semifinals and Meilutyte matched Benedetta Pilato’s WR of 29.30 before going on to cut a further 0.14secs in the final for gold in 29.16.

The 26-year-old will now head to Paris for her first Olympics since finishing seventh at Rio 2016.

Lana Pudar

Credit to: European Aquatics

The rise and further rise of Lana Pudar continued in 2023.

She’d already tasted success on the senior stage after becoming the first Bosnia and Herzegovina swimmer to win a European long-course title with 200 fly gold at Roma 2022.

Pudar swept the butterfly events at the European Junior Championships in Belgrade, all of them in national and championship record times.

Her winning time of 2:06.26 in the 200 fly was a European Junior record and elevated her into the world top-four ahead of the World Championships.

In Fukuoka she was second until the final turn before being overhauled by Elizabeth Dekkers of Australia and the USA’s Regan Smith to finish fourth, 0.47secs off the podium.

Two golds and a silver followed at the World Juniors making her the most successful European woman in Netanya, Israel.

Pudar completed a busy 2023 at the European Short-Course Championships where she added another medal to her extensive armoury with 200 fly bronze in a European Junior record of 2:04.55.

She turns 18 in January and is aiming to claim her nation’s first-ever Olympic medal, in any sport, at Paris 2024.

It will be her second Olympic appearance having made her debut in Tokyo aged 15.

Eneli Jefimova

Credit to: European Aquatics

Eneli Jefimova was named Estonia’s Sportswoman of the Year after making her mark in junior and senior waters.

An historic 100m breaststroke victory at the European Short Course Championships prompted emotion after she became the first Estonian swimmer to win a title at the continental meet.

She followed that up with silver in the 50m breaststroke on the final night in Otopeni.

It brought to an end a year that saw her finish sixth in the 100m at the World Championships and collect three golds among five medals across the World and European Juniors.

Jefimova will head to her second Olympics in Paris following her 2021 debut where she reached the 100m breaststroke semifinals aged 14.

Leonie Beck

Credit to: World Aquatics

Leonie Beck had a superb year in the open water which indicates a successful 2024 to come.

She won the 5/10k double at the World Championships in Fukuoka to claim her first individual world titles having won gold with Germany in the team event the previous year in Budapest.

It also secured her a slot for her third Olympics in Paris having come fifth in marathon swimming in Tokyo, five years after competing in the 800m freestyle at Rio 2016.

The German also won the overall title at the Open Water Swimming World Cup, beating 2016 Olympic champion Sharon van Rouwendaal by one-tenth of a second in the final race of the series in Funchal, Madeira, to secure the crown.

With that she became the first German woman to win the overall series title since Angela Maurer in 2011.

European women have topped the podium in the open water three times since the event was introduced at Beijing 2008 and claimed eight of the 12 available medals.